Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?

Recently at White Fields I have been teaching a series on the Parables of Jesus and this past Sunday we looked at the two parables of the Two Debtors in Luke 7:36-50 and Matthew 18:23-35. (Click here to listen to the audio of that message)

Both of these parables deal with the topic of forgiveness; the first is focused on how God’s forgiveness of us affects how we relate to God, the second is about how God’s forgiveness of us affects how we relate to others.

The second parable is about a man who owes a massive debt to the king: 10,000 Talents.

A talent was a measurement of money which was equivalent to 20 years wages for a laborer. You can do the math: let’s say a laborer’s wage here in the US is $30,000/year. 1 Talent would be $600,000. This guy owed 10,000 Talents — which would be 6 billion dollars!

However, the king had mercy on him and forgave him his debt.

The men then went out and found someone who owed him 100 Denarii (about $10,000 using the above calculation). That man he demanded pay him back immediately, and when the man asked for mercy (just as he had from the king), he showed him no mercy. He choked him and then had him bound and thrown in debtor’s prison – a terrible fate from which there was no way out.

Upon hearing about this, the king brings the man in, scolds him and calls him “wicked”, then informs him that he will not be forgiven of his debt after all, and he will also be put in debtor’s prison, presumably for the rest of his life.
The parable ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

The message is clear: if you have been forgiven by God, there is no excuse for you withholding forgiveness from someone who has wronged you or hurt you in some way. In fact, the most severe warning is given to those who do refuse to forgive others.

So forgiveness is a big deal. A really big deal.

Why do people hesitate to forgive others? I think one of the reasons is because there is a lot of confusion about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, and what it means to forgive.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about forgiveness — is that forgiving means forgetting: acting like what happened never happened.

That might be easy to do if it is a minor offense — but there are some things, such as major traumas, which people do not know how to forget, even if they wanted to. Furthermore, sometimes the expectation that forgiving means forgetting can be unwise and even dangerous.

For example: When I was pastoring in Hungary, there was a person from the US who wanted to work with us as a missionary — specifically, he wanted to work with youth, because we had a large youth outreach. BUT: he had recently gotten out of jail, and the reason he was in jail was because he had committed sexual assault against a… (you guessed it) youth.
In the US he wasn’t allowed to be around youth but in Hungary those laws didn’t apply. So, we told him: “Sorry, you can’t work with youth because of your past.” His response was: “Hey, I did my time, I repented. If my past sins are forgiven and forgotten by God, then why are you making an issue of it?”
Of course our prerogative was to protect the kids. And it’s just common sense not to put a person with a history of sexual assault against kids, together with a bunch of kids.

The thing is, this person would point to Bible verses like Hebrews 8:12 — where God says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Or Isaiah 43:25, where God says to Israel, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

So…isn’t “not remembering” the same as “forgetting”?
Actually, no! It’s not!

When the Bible talks about God “REMEMBERING” something — it doesn’t mean that He forgot about it, and then remembered it, like: “I can’t remember where I put my keys.” Or “I forgot where I put my phone and then I remembered.”

When the Bible talks about God “remembering” something, what it means is that God focused his attention on someone or something in a given moment for a particular purpose.

For example: throughout the Old Testament, it says over and over: God remembered Noah. God remembered Abraham. God remembered Rachel. God remembered the covenant that He had made with Israel.

Does that mean that God was like: “Oh yeah — Abraham! I totally forgot about that guy!” Or “Oh yeah — I totally forgot about that covenant I made with Israel! Thanks for reminding me!” No. It means that in that moment, God turned his focus and attention to those people or that thing.

Notice that even the king in this parable remembered the amount of the debt he had forgiven the servant.

When it says that God remembers our sins no more, it doesn’t mean that He erases them from His memory — what it means that He will never focus on them again. He’ll never hold them over our heads or throw them in our face.

The message of the Gospel is that Jesus took your record or wrongs, and took his record of rights — and he scratched out the names on the top and wrote his name on your record and wrote your name on his record, and then he took the judgment before God that your record deserved.

What that means is that from a legal perspective, God has cleared our record and made it like we never sinned. But that doesn’t mean that He, as an omniscient God, has forgotten about them. One of the best verses about this topic is Isaiah 38:17, “for you have cast all my sins behind your back.” In other words: God has chosen to not look on them any more.

Many people struggle to forgive others, because they have been given this misconception that forgiving someone means that they have to forget about what happened to them and act like it never happened.
Maybe even you have experienced things which can’t be erased from your memory. Please understand that just because you can’t forget that something happened, doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive the person who did it to you.

Furthermore, forgiveness and trust are two separate things. Proverbs 14:15 says: “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”

A lot of people confuse forgiveness and trust, and some people are unwilling to forgive, because they’re not ready to trust that person again. On the other hand, some people expect that if someone has forgiven them that they should automatically trust them again. That’s not true, in fact in some cases it would be very unwise — like in the case I mentioned above.

So, what is forgiveness then?

Forgiveness is: Not seeking your own revenge.

It means no longer holding onto the thing which happened to you, but giving it over to God.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t seek justice if it’s a legal matter. In fact, in some cases, seeking legal justice is the best and most loving thing you can do, because it might be preventing that person from hurting another person in the way that they hurt you.
But even if you seek legal justice, to forgive someone means you are not vindictive! You let go of the desire to hurt that person back because they hurt you.

Forgiveness means: Not being consumed by the past.

Some people are hesitant to forgive, because they feel like if they forgive that person who hurt them, and they let it go — then that person got away with what they did! — as if by forgiving them, they’re saying that what that person did was okay!
But it’s important that we understand that forgiveness isn’t about exonerating the person who hurt you nor trivializing what they did, or saying it was okay — it’s about you letting go of that thing, and not letting it consume your life, not being angry or resentful towards that person, but trusting God that He has or will deal with it justly in the end.

The promise we have in Jesus is that God hasn’t just swept sins and wrongdoings, evils and injustices under the proverbial rug, but He has dealt with every single one of them fully and justly in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is in the light of that, knowing that it has been dealt with by God in Christ, that we can forgive receive forgiveness joyful and show forgiveness to others.

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Debt Free!

A few years ago when we moved to the US, we got into debt. 

Related article: Should I Tithe if I’m in Debt?

Prior to that, when living in Hungary, we had never gone into debt, and had even been able to save enough money to put a down payment on a house, buy a car and a few other things when we moved to Colorado.

The reason we went into debt was because of the legal fees associated with getting our adopted son’s papers straight here in the US. It was a 2 year process, and we are grateful for the good work that our lawyers did, but it put us in the hole quite a bit – albeit a small price to pay to take care of something important for someone we love. 

Our debt was on several credit cards and loans and when we started adding it up, we were frustrated to see how much we were paying in interest, and how we had been robbing Peter to pay Paul but never making any true progress. Like many people, we though we were working the system and winning by accruing points from our cards or by using interest free loans or by saving 5% here or there by using this card or that. We weren’t winning at all.

In November of 2014, our church, White Fields, hosted Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. Another couple from our church led it, but my wife and I were some of the first to sign up. We had wanted to get out of debt for a while, but had lacked a solid game plan, so we hoped this would help.

It did. Just yesterday we made our final payment, and are debt free! 


The journey to dropping this debt meant a change of lifestyle in many ways. We started budgeting and sticking to our budget, even at the end of the month when it meant not doing things or buying things because we had already spent what we budgeted for that month. We sold our SUV and got a smaller car which saves us money on gas and maintenance. We got rid of cable and cut some of our monthly subscriptions. I worked doing snow removal in the winters and other odd jobs when I had the chance. We had several garage sales and Craigslisted many items. Tax returns went to paying off debt rather than going on trips.

The benefits have been more than just financial. The process has helped us to be more strategic about what we spend our money on, which ulimately reflects our values. 

The Dave Ramsey material was good because it gave us a plan as well as a framework for thinking about money and how it speaks to your values. Ultimately the goal is to begin to use the blessings that God has given you to be a blessing to others in the world (cf. Genesis 12:2).

If you’re looking to get a better handle on your finances and a game plan for the future, I recommend taking one of these classes. We’re excited now to move forward from here and continue using these same practices for new goals.

Done with School, and a Few Other Things

I love finishing projects that I start. The only thing is, I also really like starting projects. So I sometimes find myself with several long term projects – but over the past few weeks I've been able to finish up a few of them.

For the past several months I was very busy finishing my dissertation for my theology degree. I started at this university when my first child was the same age as my current youngest child: 5 months old. Now, in completing my dissertation, I am done – at least for now… I would like to continue.

The title of my dissertation: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Implications of Epistemology and Culture for Christian Thinking, Practice and Mission

Another thing I've been working on for a while that I was able to complete: During the 10 years that I lived in Hungary I spent a lot of time getting different kinds and levels of residence permits and visas. By the time I left I had permanent residence and a work permit, which I gave up when I moved to the US. No big deal, because I have no plan to move back. But about 2 years ago a friend in Hungary told me that I should look into becoming a Hungarian citizen and that I might meet the requirements for citizenship. I looked into it, and I did – so, a year ago I applied for Hungarian citizenship, and I just found out 2 weeks ago I received it. Last week I traveled to Los Angeles for my naturalization ceremony at the office of the Hungarian Consulate.

Receiving my Hungarian citizenship from Kálmán László, consulate general of Hungary.

I'm not really sure how it will benefit me, but it is meaningful nonetheless. My wife and kids are Hungarian citizens, and I does encourage me to spend more time making sure the kids learn Hungarian and have that identity.

Another long term project we've been working on is getting out of the debt we incurred from the adoption we did. It's been an exercise in budgeting, downsizing and penny pinching, inspired by a Dave Ramsey class, and at the end of June we will have that project complete as well.

I've also finished a few books recently:

The men's group at our church has been going through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, following a study guide and video series by Eric Metaxas. A lot of the videos refer to Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, so I picked it up and started reading it. In it, Lewis tells the story of how he became an atheist and then the process by which he turned from atheism to deism and finally to Christianity. “Joy”, spelled with a capital J, is the thing which all people are looking for and get glimpses of throughout their lives in various ways, but which can only be found in and through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Sounds interesting, right? I have to say, Surprised by Joy left me surprised with boredom. I had a really hard time getting through the book, and felt that a lot of the material was indulgent details which had nothing at all to do with the story he was telling. That part though, the story of his journey from a nominal Christian upbringing, to atheism, to deism and finally to Christianity, was truly captivating. The last chapter was particularly good. It's worth reading if you are a CS Lewis fan.

The other book I finished recently was John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent. I heard somewhere that it is good to read fiction because it fuels creativity and imagination in a way that other media does not. I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly theology books and biographies, and so I want to make sure that I read some good fiction from time to time as well and I have it in mind to read classic novels and literature.

The Winter of Our Discontent was interesting, particularly in how it dealt with moral and ethical issues, as well as issues of contentment, and pressures in society which create dissatisfaction. The novel describes how people often cross their own moral and ethical lines to get what they think they want, and when they get it, they are still discontent and often more miserable that they were before. I think it's a great commentary on society and on the fallen human condition.

Ironically, The Winter of Our Discontent and Surprised by Joy have their core theme in common. The only difference is that whereas Steinbeck didn't answer the question of what it is that human beings are ultimately looking for: the true quest beneath all our quests, Lewis did. And although Lewis' writing style is harder to read, Surprised by Joy actually answers the question posed by The Winter of Our Discontent.

 

I'm enjoying this season.

 

Should I Tithe if I’m in Debt?

One of the questions I am frequently asked as a pastor is whether people who are in debt should tithe to their church, or if they should rather dedicate that money to paying off their debt.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, my wife and I have paid off our debt. More about that in this post: Debt Free!

First of all, I should say that the New Testamnet does not require that a person give a tithe (10% of their income donated to the congregation where they worship) per se. Although this requirement did exist in the Old Testament for the nation of Israel, the New Testament teaches that we are to give unto the Lord not out of obligation but from a cheerful heart, to contribute to the work of the Lord and the community of faith. Many, however, including myself, believe that the Old Testament standard of a tithe, although not required by the New Testament, is a good guideline for giving.

According to Business Insider, the average American household is $6,500 in debt – that’s consumer debt not related to their mortgage.

The average American household carries $6,500 of consumer debt

There is a good chance that MOST people in any given church in America are in thousands of dollars of debt. That means that there are multitudes of faithful Christians who desire to honor God with their money by giving to Him of their first fruits and investing in building His Kingdom and spreading the Gospel – who wonder if giving a few hundred dollars in tithe to their church every month should rather be directed towards paying off their debt.

The short answer? Yes, I think you should regularly give tithes and offerings, even if you are in debt.

I know that some people will not agree with that – but please understand that I do not say that lightly at all. I too am in debt, and yet I tithe. I don’t want to be in debt, in fact, I’m working very hard to get out of debt. Last year we had some unexpected expenses which we deemed worthy of going into debt for. So, I say this as one who is in the same boat – carrying debt and struggling with whether to give a tithe or offering to my church or use that money to help pay off our debt.

I too am in debt, and yet I tithe

Here is why I tithe even though I have debt:

The tithe is not God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.

I tithe because it is a values issue, and it trains my heart. By making the first check I write every month my tithe check, I am making a clear statement of my priorities and values. And it sends a message to my heart, that for us, we would rather invest in the Kingdom of God and the furtherance of the Gospel than just buying more stuff.

‘But, wait’ – you might say: ‘You wouldn’t be using that money to buy more stuff, you would be using that money to pay off your debt for the stuff you already bought.’ That’s nice in theory, but in practice, most people, with a few hundred more dollars in their pocket, won’t regularly devote that money to aggressively paying off their debt, it will just be a cushion on their budget.

The key to getting out of debt for many people is changing your lifestyle, not having a little more money – and tithing helps you change your lifestyle.

People who have more money – guess what they do? They spend more money. I watched a documentary on Netflix the other day about how an astonishing number of professional athletes go broke within just a few years of retirement. They had a lot of money and they spent a lot of money. What we need is a lifestyle change, not just more money. I have found that letting go of some of my money and giving it to God as the first thing I do when I get paid releases me from the grip of money – and helps me to change my lifestyle.

I have found then when I tithe vs when I don’t tithe, I don’t really end up with more money in my pocket, or get ahead with getting out of debt.

A sacrifice is only a sacrifice if it hurts.

David said, I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24)  The woman who gave 2 mites – it was a relatively insignificant amount to the rest of us, but for her IT HURT. And Jesus publicly commended her for giving in a sacrificial way, although she could have just as well used that money to buy milk or bread which she probably had need of. She gave sacrificially, and Jesus not only commended her for it – God made sure it was recorded for all time so that generation after generation could learn from her example.

Worship and sacrifice are very closely related. We all sacrifice for what we worship. If we don’t sacrifice as an act of worship, well just put some thought into what that says about who you worship…

God is looking for vessels He can pour into, who will then pour back out what He has given them in ways that He desires. If we show ourselves faithful stewards with little, he will entrust us with more. I believe that God honors those who step out in faith and give radically and generously – because He is a God who also gives radically and generously, and when we do that, it aligns us in a greater way with His heart.

Is this a hard, fast rule? No. It’s a principle. But yet, it is the one principle, which God challenges us to test him on (see Malachi 3:10).

God loves a joyful giver. He doesn’t want people to give out of a sense of coercion or obligation. But this is a principle of which God says: “If you want to live the full life that I have designed for you, if you want to experience joy, then walk in this way,” – ‘the way everlasting’.

Busyness: The Enemy of the Soul

“How have you been?” “Busy!”
“Haven’t seen you much lately. What have you been up to?” “Oh, I’ve just been really busy.”
“We should really get together sometime.” “Yeah, I’d love to. Things are just really busy right now.”

We live in a culture that is chronically busy. Many of us, myself included, are busy doing a lot of really great things – but if we don’t watch out, our busyness with all these great things can destroy us.

What legacy will you have to show for all your running around?

Recently I’ve been listening to some audiobooks given to me by a friend. One of them is about how to get out of debt – a topic I’m very interested in. And what I see is that there is a parallel between how our culture handles money and time.

You see – because of technological developments of everything from cars to the internet, we now have more time on our hands, which frees us up to many more possibilities! We can go more places and do more things and connect with more people than ever before. In the same way – money and products are also readily available, perhaps like no other time before. Even if you have no money, there are a myriad of ways to finance purchases, which you can leverage to buy GOOD things, like houses and cars, you couldn’t have before. But, if you are always spending your money on every good thing that comes your way – after a while, you end up with very little to show for your years of hard work. The statistics on how much money passes through the average middle-class home in America are astounding.

Similarly, with busyness – if we stay busy doing a lot of really good things, we can easily find ourselves BUSY, but then looking back we have very little to show for it. Sure we might accomplish a few things along the way and spend time with some people – but what legacy will we have to show for all of our running around?

On a website I recently read about how the difference between chronically broke people and those who have financial security is found not in income, but in habits. One defining factor is that a much higher percentage of those who attain financial security set out concrete goals for themselves to work towards, whereas many chronically broke people never set out goals to work towards; they go through life living day to day.

The same principle can and should be applied to time-management. What are the goals that you would like to attain with your time? Who is the person you would like to be? What is the big-picture thing you hope to accomplish? What has God called you to do? If you are a spouse or a parent, that is a calling. If you are a Christian, by definition, you have a calling on your life – because to be a Christian is to be one who has been commissioned by Jesus Christ to join Him in His mission.

What do you want your legacy to be?  Do you want to raise a Christian family?  Do you want to have a closer walk with the Lord?  Do you want to be used by God for His purposes in the world? 

Once you have identified what you want to attain, what you are shooting for – then THAT will dictate how you spend your time, it will prioritize your options. Otherwise, you will be just like everyone else: running around like crazy, but with very little to show for it. In fact, being super busy with no purpose and direction – well that will quickly kill your creativity, and it will quickly kill relationships – with people and with God.

Guess what the first thing is that many God-fearing people cut out when they are feeling too busy:  Church. Time with spouse and kids. Bible study. Devotions.  “Oh, I’ll do those things when I am not so busy.”  But if you let your calling in life and the end goals that you hope to attain dictate your priorities, then seeking the Lord and being in fellowship with other believers is always a priority.

Certainly there are many things which might be dialed back in a busy schedule – but figuring out which ones you should dial back is the result of evaluating your goals and focusing yourself on attaining them.

Don’t wind up a victim of your own busyness! Figure out what it is that God has called you to do – and what it is that you hope to attain, and let those things dictate how you spend your time.